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Eye of the Storm

Two OR nurses and a NP from Hospital for Special Surgery galvanize to support Haitian relief efforts

Advance for Nurses—February 16, 2010

Long after the world's attention has turned from the earthquake disaster in Haiti, its people and the devastation will linger in the memory of a team of dedicated nurses at Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS).

Louise Strickland, BN, RN, CNOR, operating room nurse; Ronald Perez, JD, RN, CNOR, assistant vice president for nursing, perioperative services; and Patricia Donohue, MSN, ACNP, RN, orthopedic trauma nurse practitioner, mobilized in less than 24 hours to lend their nursing skills in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation.

The nurses joined nine HSS physicians and two surgical supply technicians 4 days after the magnitude 7 earthquake hit the capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.

Led by David L. Helfet, MD, chief of orthopedic trauma service at HSS, the team arrived Jan. 16 after an overnight diversion to the Dominican Republic. The clinicians performed more than 120 surgeries in 4 days at Hopital de la Communaute Haitienne in the suburb of Freres, just a few miles from the earthquake's epicenter.

The team worked nonstop the first 24 hours. "We just kept going because there were so many people and in such dire need," Strickland said. They slept on blankets among boxes in a storage room until a local woman offered her house for team members to nap in shifts.

"Sleeping arrangements were far down on our list," Perez said. "Our priorities were securing food and water so we would have sustenance to work."

Conditions were rudimentary, especially for a team from a world-leading hospital in orthopedics. There was no basic equipment - anesthesia machine, X-ray machine, blood pressure or ECG monitors - in working condition. There were minimal surgical supplies, other than what the team brought with them. Supplemental supplies flown in during the 4 days were intercepted between the airport and hospital and never arrived. There were non-medical volunteers helping, but no local nurses and support staff in OR.

"We felt strange leaving," Strickland said, "but there was nothing else we could do at that point. Maybe we didn't change the world, but we saved some lives and let people know someone out there cared enough to come and try to help. It's a small start. If the money gets to the right place to help the people long-term and they can start to rebuild their lives and get some infrastructure, then it was worthwhile. It's definitely something none of us will ever forget."

This story originally appeared at nursing.advanceweb.com.


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